AUBURN - The safe return of Nick, a 16-year-old blind and deaf dog named after St. Nicholas, is being heralded by its owners as a Christmas miracle.
Owners Brian and Debra Hill say Nick, who is half teacup poodle and half Westie, wandered off Dec. 5 during a routine trip outside to answer nature's calling.
When the shaggy gray canine hadn't returned within 30 minutes, the Hills skipped the Christmas parade in downtown Tupelo and mounted a search for Nick, combing the woods, knocking on neighbors' doors and walking, biking and driving the surrounding streets looking for him.
"We've been out here 15 years and never lost anything," said Debra Hill, who also has three other dogs, 11 cats and three horses on the family's farm in rural Lee County.
His disappearance came at an especially significant time for the family.
Nick is named after St. Nicholas because the Hills adopted him the week before Christmas 16 years ago. The puppy was in the Hills' wedding the next year on Dec. 16. He's also been in the Christmas parade twice.
"He was our only child until Lauren came along," Hill said, later displaying the "I (Heart) Nick" red T-shirt that she wore constantly during his disappearance. "Brian was like, 'What do you want for our anniversary and Christmas?' 'I just want Nick back.'"
As the days ticked by with no sight of Nick, the Hills, along with their 12-year-old daughter, Lauren, began to give up hope.
They bought a memorial Christmas ornament for Nick and they took their Christmas picture without the dog, opting to put in a bubble saying "in memory of Nick" this year.
They had theories about Nick's demise, including getting eaten by foxes, coyotes or chicken hawks.
Their biggest fear was that their beloved dog had drowned in the two-acre, 12-foot-deep lake they built last year behind their house in the Auburn community.
"I just knew he had fallen in the lake," Debra Hill said. "I asked him, 'Baby, can you drain the lake?' Brian, he's so sweet. He said, 'I'll drain the lake if you want me to.'"
Then, a week and a half after Nick went missing, Debra Hill heard a tap on door.
"It was a lady who asked if we had lost a little gray dog," Hill said. "She said she found him, but she gave him away."
The woman had found Nick in a ditch on the side of the road on the same day he was lost. He was a few tenths of a mile down the road from the house, Brian Hill said.
"He must have been wandering too close to the edge (of the road) and fallen off," Brian Hill said. "Of all the doors we knocked on, I can't believe we missed her's."
The woman took Nick home and bathed him. She later gave the dog to a co-worker.
The next day, the Hills caught up with the co-worker and got Nick home in time for their anniversary.
"It was just our Christmas miracle. ... He could have been living in Mantachie for the rest of his life and we would have never known," Debra Hill said. "The lady was so sweet to take him in and let him stay in her house."
Since he's been home, Nick has been sleeping and getting a lot of TLC and canned tuna. He also doesn't go outside unsupervised.
"He has a collar on now with my number on it - not that he's leaving my sight," Debra Hill said. "I think he knows he's home. My mother said that when he dies, she wants his guardian angel."
Brian Hill said there's only one thing left to do - fix the Christmas cards that say Nick is dead.
"We'll just have to mark through it and put, 'He's alive!'"
Contact Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or email@example.com.
Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal